Ever since His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Akihito, formally announced his intention to abdicate the Japanese throne in a rare televised address last year, the island nation of Japan has been somewhat abuzz with speculation as to what exactly such an occurrence would entail.
With no abdication of a Japanese Emperor since Emperor Kokaku in 1817, and no provisions laid out in the 1947 Japanese Constitution as to how the Emperor could even abdicate at all, the Imperial Household Agency is finding itself in very unfamiliar territories. Tasked with managing the Emperor, his duties, and his household, this has resulted in lots of careful negotiation with the Japanese Diet as to how best to proceed.
One possible point of contention lies in the actual date of His Imperial Majesty’s retirement. It has been suggested by officials within the Japanese government that the cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prefer a date towards the end of 2018 so that it coincides more neatly with the change of the calendar in 2019. This would also make it easier to adjust new batches of calendars that would have to be modified to mark the new Imperial Era of Japanese history under a new Emperor.
However the Imperial Household Agency seem to want to delay it a little further, positing a date within the spring of 2019.
The reason given is not petty or arbitrary. During the New Year, His Imperial Majesty and much of the Imperial Family will already be involved in a large number of important religious and cultural ceremonies and events that will require the Emperor’s attendance and performance. The rigours of an abdication thrown into the midst of this would be disruptive, and may place unnecessary strain on the Emperor and his successor, Crown Prince Naruhito. Springtime, in the meantime, is a relatively quieter period in the Japanese calendar, and would be more conductive towards the things necessary to do in order to ensure a smooth transition of power.
Those of a poetic bent may also appreciate some of the symbolism often associated with this time of year, with the emergence of new life and new beginnings.
The legislative foundations for the Emperor’s abdication have already been laid by the Japanese Diet earlier this year, when an act was passed allowing the Emperor to retire from the Chrysanthemum Throne. Not being a constitutional amendment, this law would only apply to Emperor Akihito alone. Future emperors wishing to abdicate would still have no constitutional provision for doing so.
Upon his retirement, the Emperor is expected to take up residence in either Kyoto or Nara, and may also be granted the title ‘joko,’ which was the traditional title for retired emperors.